Estranged daughter joins veteran Henry's send-off
Thursday 30 July 2009
Henry Allingham might not have cared much for all the pomp and ceremony at his funeral, the dignitaries and the fulsome tributes that flowed to one of the last survivors of the First World War. This, after all, was the man who when asked how he would like to be remembered replied that he did not want to be remembered at all. "I want to be forgotten. Remember the others."
He might, though, have been pleased to see the frail, elderly woman in black sitting in the front of the church for today's service. She drew no attention to herself, nor gave great outward show of mourning, but she would have known that the eyes of nearly everyone in the 14th century Brighton church would have been upon her: for she was Betty Hankin, the daughter who had not spoken to Henry for nearly 40 years. So long had their estrangement been that Henry used to say he thought she was dead.
With death came a rapprochement of sorts, not soon enough for a reunion between the living, but enough for 89-year-old Mrs Hankin to make the journey from her home in Gloucestershire to pay her last respects to the father who become a national symbol of the sacrifice of a generation.
She did not come alone. With her were several members of her family who, until last week, had no idea that they had a forebear who was held in such regard. The exact cause of the rift remains unclear - and perhaps the family has done nothing to deserve the private sadness of a family feud being made public - but Mr Allingham's lost family made up for the wasted years by turning out in force, right down to his 10-month-old great-great-grandson, Tyler Hankin.
Henry Allingham was, at the age of 113, the world's oldest man when he died on July 18 and, with Harry Patch, one of Britain's last two survivors from the Great War. Harry Patch died exactly week later, making Claude Choules, 108, who lives in Australia, the last living British veteran of the war.
His funeral was held with full military honours. The Duchess of Gloucester was there, in her capacity as president of the World War One Veterans Association, along with senior figures from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force and the Veterans Minister Kevan Jones. On a day of singular honours for a singular man, his coffin - draped with the Union flag and covered with red roses - was, uniquely, carried by pallbearers from both the navy and the RAF. Behind them, from the American side of the family - his other daughter Jean, now dead, was a GI bride - his great-grandsons Brent and Michael Gray, both petty officers in the US Navy, carried his medals and decorations into church.
At the end of the service the bells of St Nicholas's tolled 113 times, once for each year of his life, and five replica World War One planes - Mr Allingham was the last surviving member of the Royal Naval Air Service, and a founder member of the Royal Air Force - performed a flypast.
There was, however, more to Henry Allingham than longevity and luck, and the crowd that gathered by the church - a thousand or more, from children to old men festooned with medals - to watch the service on the screen outside was testament to the way Mr Allingham spoke to all generations.
His friend Vice Admiral Sir Adrian Johns said that by talking about the war Mr Allingham performed an invaluable service. "He blew the dust off the history books for us. He breathed life into our heritage and reminded us of those who had gone before and those who had made the ultimate sacrifice."
He was also, as another friend, Air-Vice Marshal Peter Dye, told the congregation, a reminder that old age need not be seen as a disability. "I never knew someone with such an appetite for life," he said. "I watched Henry at the age of 110 conga round a French dance floor in his wheelchair. When his slipper flew off into the corner I was struck by how much he simply enjoyed living."
He also had a mischievous side - "and, I'm told by the ladies, a certain charm." Once, during a visit to the House of Lords, he said, "Black Rod was somewhat surprised when Henry, having struck up a warm conversation with his secretary, asked for her phone number."
- 1 BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
- 2 Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
- 3 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
- 4 The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
- 5 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
Isis propaganda video shows 25 Syrian soldiers executed by teenage militants in Palmyra
Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...
£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...